Small Congregations

Summary of Insights, Challenges and Experiments from Mission Summit Conversations (June 2013)

  • Insights
    • Church tradition and norms are equally strong barriers to apathy and fear to ministry outside the congregation.
    • Identifying strengths is not the best starting place for small church ministry.
    • Seeing God in the life of the church or its people needs to be a spiritual discipline.
    • Small churches can do mission that bigger ones cannot do.
  • Challenges
    • How to form creative partnerships for ministry.
    • The challenges that face small congregations include developing leadership, forming partnerships, survival and the future, and mission involvement. In order to meet these challenges the small congregation must embrace change. How does a congregation build unity or consensus around issues of change?
  • Experiments
    • How can we learn the language of all the generations in the church and those that we want to do ministry with?

Summary of Insights, Challenges and Experiments from the Mission Table (November 2013)

  • Insights
    • What do we mean by “small church”?  The literal size (active in worship) matters less than the trajectory (growing? long term stability?  declining?).
  • Challenges
    • For congregations that are small due to decline, the challenge is to overcome self-delusion, find liberation from the weight of the glory days of the past, (re)-discover their mission and true resources in the present and move missionally into the future.
    • Congregations need to be loyal to their mission, not to their buildings.  A church struggling to maintain large/expensive buildings might be a viable or even dynamic church if it were willing to sell the property and operate in an appropriately-sized physical space.
  • Experiments/Projects
    • Many regions have lay training and/or lay pastor training programs.  Providing training for lay pastors is crucial for sustaining vital small churches.
    • How/where do small churches find their pastors?  Our current ABPS works best for full-time, seminary-trained pastors and less well for locating part-time or bivocational pastors without formal seminary degrees.
    • It would be a strategic move at the national level for ABC to invest in lay pastor training and continuing education.  It was exciting to hear about the emerging New England Lay Pastor Training program.
    • There is probably also a place for a national program to assist churches that are closing (and regions that are working with such churches) to finish well.


Read the full notes:

Mission Summit Conversations:

Mission Table:

Views expressed are the sole opinion of conversation participants. They do not express the views of American Baptist Churches USA, or individual American Baptist churches. Conversation notes and summaries are shared to allow American Baptists and friends to easily review and use these Mission Summit Conversations and the Mission Table learnings as they wish.